Brown Rice and Arsenic…Here We Go Again

February 11, 2014

Just when I think things are returning to some form of normalcy, there is more panic around food…some for good cause and some, as Jon Stewart says, not so much.

This article is about the latter.

Here we are again discussing arsenic in brown rice and while I am weary of having this same discussion every few years, I am also committed to health and to the health of my readers and viewers and do not take their concerns lightly.

Here is what my latest research has shown me.

According to the USA Rice Federation, organic arsenic is pretty much unavoidable. Arsenic has always been present in water, air, and soil, which is how rice plants absorb it, whether farming is organic or conventional…and how other foods absorb it as well.

According to Consumer Reports:
Rice absorbs arsenic from soil or water much more effectively than most plants. That’s in part because it is one of the only major crops grown in water-flooded conditions, which allow arsenic to be more easily taken up by its roots and stored in the grains. In the U.S. as of 2010, about 15 percent of rice acreage was in California, 49 percent in Arkansas, and the remainder in Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, and Texas. That south-central region of the country has a long history of producing cotton, a crop that was heavily treated with arsenical pesticides for decades in part to combat the boll weevil beetle.

It seems that rice produced in the southern-most regions of the country have the most challenges with arsenic. However, the FDA states that rice tested from all major growing areas of the country show arsenic levels in rice contributed to about 11% of the arsenic we take in…including in our water.

Further, the USA Rice Federation states that “the estimated level of consumer exposure to arsenic through diet is 80% lower than the level imposed by law to protect consumers from long-term, chronic exposure to arsenic in cooking and drinking water.”

According to the EPA, arsenic is measured in parts per billion, which translates like this: 1 part per billion is equal to a single drop of water in a swimming pool. So, when Consumer Reports throws around numbers like 92 parts per billion in rice, I am not sure panic should ensue. To put this into perspective, consider that the EPA says 100-112 parts per billion is considered safe to consume.

I think this is particularly relevant when foods that contribute to our intake of dietary organic arsenic, which include: vegetables (24%), fruit juices and fresh fruit (18%), rice (17%), wine and beer (12%) and flour, corn and wheat (11%). No one is telling us to give up veggies (thank goodness) or bread.

There’s a reason. It’s because this story is more hype than substance. We live in a culture of contaminated meat, dairy and poultry, with a history of recalls to prove my point (the latest of which was just weeks ago in Canada and still under investigation as of this writing). But Consumer Reports doesn’t come out and advise mothers everywhere to give up meat or limit their family’s intake. They simply mention the recall in their ‘Safety and Recall’ sound bites.

So why rice? Why is this crop, the staple of civilizations for hundreds of years a chronic target for dire warnings that just do not hold water?

Who knows? I am not even sure I care. I only care that I provide you with solid, sane information so that you can make the best choice for your family’s health.

I know that brown rice is a staple in our house. I know that it has contributed greatly to our own health. I have seen brown rice as the foundation grain for many people in recovering and maintaining their health. I know that we will continue to eat brown rice and I will continue to stay on top of the latest news and research, so I can report it to you. Brown rice has been a staple in Asian healing arts like macrobiotics and Chinese medicine for thousands of years and even modern wisdom has shown it to be a key factor in creating an alkaline blood pH, creating a healthy digestive tract and being an effective tool in healthy living.

In the meantime, I can tell you how we prepare rice in our house. We have done this for years but now it has become part of the ‘latest information’ on how to minimize the levels of arsenic in brown rice.

First, we buy rice from California. I did not think anything of this, but new research shows California to have a very low level (if any) of arsenic in rice grown there.

Next, we rinse rice very well. According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, rinsing rice also reduces whatever arsenic is in the rice.

Also, vary your whole grains. Eat grains like quinoa, amaranth, millet, barley and farro along with brown rice to keep your diet interesting and reduce your intake of arsenic.

And last, I did independent tests we did on brown rice syrup, which is made from brown rice and you will find what we did…zero levels of arsenic. Since brown rice makes brown rice syrup, one can only conclude.